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A new strain of coronavirus: how SARS-CoV-2 mutates and how it threatens us
A new strain of coronavirus: how SARS-CoV-2 mutates and how it threatens us

A new strain of coronavirus infection has spread in the UK. The life hacker found out what was going on and what to expect.

How the coronavirus mutates and how it threatens us
How the coronavirus mutates and how it threatens us

What's happened

In the UK, the number of cases of the new SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2 coronavirus has skyrocketed. As a result, dozens of countries, including Russia, have suspended communication with her.

The first information about patients with a mutated virus appeared New coronavirus variant: What do we know? back in September. By mid-December, a new version of the infection had taken over London. According to some reports, New coronavirus variant: What do we know?, two out of every three infected residents of the British capital are infected with line B.1.1.7 Preliminary genomic characterization of an emergent SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2 lineage in the UK defined by a novel set of spike mutations - this is the name given to the new strain. His other name is VOC ‑ 202012/01 Investigation of novel SARS ‑ COV ‑ 2 variant. Variant of Concern 202012/01 (Variant of Concern - "variant of concern"), which replaced the preliminary VUI ‑ 202012/01 ("study variant").

According to Twitter @BorisJohnson by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the new virus could be 70% more infectious than the original SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2. WHO cites figures at 40–70%.

This is still preliminary data, which has not yet been confirmed by laboratory studies. However, something is already known for certain about the new version of the virus.

How the new strain of coronavirus differs from the usual SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2

The main difference between the British strain is the unusually large Preliminary genomic characterization of an emergent SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2 lineage in the UK defined by a novel set of spike mutations, the number of genetic changes (mutations). In particular, we are talking about mutations of the key part of the microbe - the spike protein, that is, the “thorn” of the viral “crown”.

The structure of the coronavirus
The structure of the coronavirus

"Spikes" are a kind of keys with which the coronavirus enters cells. Thanks to mutations, these "picks" have become more effective, that is, the British version of the virus can infect cells more easily and faster. But perhaps the new COVID-19 can do more.

Why the British strain of coronavirus is dangerous

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Covid: Nations impose UK travel bans over new variant that the new strain is "out of control" and called the situation "an incredibly difficult end to a frankly terrible year." Other high-ranking officials agree with him. Thus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Daily virus cases surpassed 3,000 on Sunday, with 4.4% of tests positive, that this mutation could be the beginning of coronavirus 2.0 - a completely new round of the pandemic.

However, despite the tough lockdown introduced in the UK and closed transport links with the country, it is too early to talk about panic. So far, there is no evidence that the new strain could be more deadly than the classic COVID-19. But the line B.1.1.7 still has alarming features. Here is some of them.

Perhaps the new strain is spreading faster

This means that it is capable of infecting many more people than the original version. The British lockdown is intended to lock VOC-202012/01 on the islands, but it is already known that the mutant has been detected COVID-19: More countries detect mutated UK coronavirus variant in some European countries (Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy), as well as in Australia and probably in South Africa.

However, the authorities of the Republic of South Africa believe that they have their own unique strain of coronavirus with their own genetic differences. This is a separate alarming piece of information. But she also has a rational explanation.

The new virus is evolving very quickly

The fact that the coronavirus can change in order to hide from the human immune system has long been known. However, earlier, before the British incident, mutations accumulated Preliminary genomic characterization of an emergent SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2 lineage in the UK defined by a novel set of spike mutations at a relatively low rate - about one or two changes per month.

The British mutant is a champion. It changes very quickly and actively. So active that scientists believe: we are observing the very real evolution of the virus.

How to explain this, the researchers do not yet know. They suggest that lineage B.1.1.7 originated in a chronically infected person with COVID-19. That is, a certain "zero patient" carries a coronavirus for months, then suppressing it with the help of immunity, then falling ill again. All this time, the infection adapts to different types of body reactions, improves - hence such a large number of mutations.

Evolution of the virus is likely still ongoing. And that's not good news.

Perhaps the number of new strains will grow

How many “chronicles” with COVID-19 in the world are hard to say. But they belong to different races, live in different countries, climates and social conditions. That is, the coronavirus receives a huge field of opportunities for mutations.

The South African option mentioned above could be one of the new development arms of SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2. Its features, in comparison with the British version, are associated with different environmental conditions. In general, it is possible that other regions of the world will begin to develop their own strains, radically different from the original COVID-19.

There is a risk that new strains will target other organs and tissues

The classic coronavirus enters the body mainly through the cells of the respiratory tract. That is why it is called respiratory.

However, SARS ‑ CoV ‑ 2 can bind, for example, to cells in the mucous membranes of the eyes or the digestive system. While these are not the most common options. But in the future anything is possible.

Since mutations affect the "thorns" - the keys with which the coronavirus opens cells for infection, there is a risk that new strains can seriously infect cells of other organs and tissues. The next evolved version of COVID-19 may be associated with disorders of the digestive system or, for example, damage to the brain and nervous system.

The effectiveness of existing vaccines is likely to decline

The vaccine trains the immune system to respond to a specific virus. More precisely, on the sequence of its constituent proteins. Simply put, vaccination tells the body to quickly produce antibodies as soon as it encounters the conditional protein sequence A ‑ B ‑ C ‑ D. But if the sequence changes (say, turns into A ‑ C ‑ D ‑ B) or new elements appear in it, the virus, despite being vaccinated, turns out to be a stranger to the immune system.

There is no data yet on Covid: Flights shut down as EU discusses UK virus threat that existing vaccines will not cope with line B.1.1.7. But the virus continues to mutate and one day it may well learn to evade vaccination.

What can be done about it

So far, the world has not come up with anything more effective than lockdowns and restrictions on flights and other types of movements. So the quarantines - now weakening, now tightening - can continue for some time.

All that each of us can do in this situation is to try not to get infected. Even children know these sanitary and hygienic measures by heart:

  • limit contact with people;
  • if possible, refuse to travel;
  • keep a social distance - at least 1.5 meters from the nearest neighbor in turn or office space;
  • wear a mask in public places;
  • Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap or use an antiseptic.

It is these measures that are your most reliable protection.


Coronavirus. Number of infected:

242 972 175

in the world

8 131 164

in Russia View map